• Freethought #FridayReads – A Manual For Creating Atheists

    I’ve finally gotten around to reading Peter Boghossian’s newest book, which turns out to be pretty much exactly what it says on the cover. A Manual for Creating Atheists is primarily focused on creating “Street Epistemologists” who will go forth and sow seeds of doubt:

    In your work as a Street Epistemologist you’ll literally talk people out of their faith. Your goal is to help them by engendering doxastic openness. Only very rarely will you help someone abandon their faith instantly. More commonly, by helping someone realize their own ignorance, you’ll sow seeds of doubt that will blossom into ever-expanding moments of doxastic openness.

    These moments of openness have to be carefully cultivated, because Street Epistemologists are arrayed against beliefs and belief systems which are highly resistant to revision, a phenomenon Boghossian refers to (somewhat idiosyncratically) as “doxastic closure”:

    Combine clustering in like-minded communities with filter bubbles, then put that on top of a cognitive architecture that predisposes one to belief and favors confirmation bias, then throw in the fact that critical thinking and reasoning require far more intellectual labor than acceptance of simple solutions and platitudes, then liberally sprinkle the virulence of certain belief systems, then infuse with the idea that holding certain beliefs and using certain processes of reasoning are moral acts, and then lay this entire mixture upon the difficulty of just trying to make a living and get through the day with any time for reflection, and voilà: Doxastic closure!

    I cannot help but take note here that the above description accurately fits several communities and belief systems other than those centered on religious faith. Various insular secular -ism’s come to mind, from right-wing libertarian objectivism to left-wing identitarian radicalism. I would go so far as to venture that Boghossian’s conceptual toolkit for changing minds can be effectively applied outside of the struggle between naturalistic and supernatural worldviews, and although “a manual for creating people who carefully apportion belief to evidence” is probably too wordy, it would be somewhat more apt.

    There are a couple of chapters with specific apologetic counterarguments, they are well-done but break no new ground. Chapters 3-5 are the real meat of the tome, in my opinion, laying the groundwork of how to directly engage people who are living within a bubble of unassailable beliefs. I’m not nearly as experienced as Professor Boghossian at planting seeds of doubt, but I have had good results with many of the techniques that he suggests, such as taking a Socratic approach and trying to get one’s interlocutor to honestly reassess whether their cherished beliefs are indeed falsifiable, and if so, how.

    It remains to be seen, of course, whether Boghossian’s techniques work on the keyboard warriors for great social justice, but I expect he will get the chance to practice his unique form of evangelical rationalism on them soon enough, and wish him the very best of luck.

    Category: AtheismCounter-ApologeticsFriday Reads

    Article by: Damion Reinhardt

    Former fundie finds freethought fairly fab.